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C. Michael Bailey's Best Releases of 2011

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As in 2010, this end-of-the-year best recordings list is drawn from albums awarded "five stars" on the author's score sheet when first reviewed.

Dana Lauren

It's You or No One

Vocalist Dana Lauren has a beautifully balanced alto voice that is pliant and malleable, one well suited for jazz. It's You or No One (Self Produced, 2010) was the singer's well-received debut, a smart collection of standards rendered well by top-notch musicians. Lauren sings inside and outside the box, straight-ahead and sideways with equal intensity and sensitivity. She is also effective in small spaces....continue.

Donny McCaslin

Perpetual Motion

Donny McCaslin's Perpetual Motion is an embarrassment of riches, employing a lineup populated by the edgiest, most progressive-thinking jazz musicians currently composing. Alto saxophonist David Binney (who also produces the disc), pianist Uri Caine, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Antonio Sanchez have been producing music that has positively expanded jazz music for the past decade...continue.

Jacqui Sutton

Billie & Dolly

Heaven knows that contemporary jazz vocals could use a shot of sense-of- humor. The scene hosts a legion of earnest singers paying tribute to their idols, firebrands intent on extending the already stretched-taut realms of scat and vocalese, and soccer moms and dads fulfilling a vanity ambition—all so serious. Sense of humor is in order, but not just any sense of humor will do; it has to be a smart sense of humor, not cheeky or rude, only clever and coy, wafting sophistication and panache...continue.

Sanda Weigl

Gypsy in a Tree

Romanian singer Sanda Weigl's story is a harrowing one that spans the full length of the Cold War, from pre-Ceausescu Romania to communist East Berlin to West Berlin before arriving most recently in New York City, at a time when many Gotham musicians were investigating Eastern European influences in Western music, making her expertise in Gypsy music immediately popular. A lifelong fan of Romanian Gypsy music, Weigl drank deep from all its influences, pouring her lifetime of musical and political experiences ...continue.

Julia Wedman

Biber—Mystery Sonatas

Before Perlman, Mutter and Mullova were Grumiaux, Heifetz and Stern. Preceding them were Berwald, Spohr and Paganini, and prior to them were Benda, Cannabich and Stamitz. Predating those composers were Vivaldi, Corelli and Bach. And, finally, before all of them was Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704). Biber was the foremost violinist and composer for the violin of the early Baroque period. ...continue.

R|E|D|S

Sign of Four

R|E|D|S is a quartet made up of an American expatriate and three Danes: baritone saxophonist Ed Epstein, guitarist Bjarne Roupe, bassist Goran Schelin and drummer Dennis Drud. Epstein and Roupe are close friends, and the saxophonist wanted a vehicle in which to collaborate with the guitarist. With this exegesis, the quartet was born ...continue.

Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra

Hot House Stomp />One of the beauties of long-lived music genres is if a current one becomes boring and the future looks, well, too futuristic, we can always go backwards, investigating earlier forms we may have not paid attention to earlier. And herein lies the value of Brian Carpenter's Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920 Chicago and Harlem. The music Carpenter concentrates on is big band music other than Duke Ellington and Count Basie, during the Jazz Age of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Lost Generation ...continue.

Becca Stevens Band

Weightless

There is an artistic point where Jacqui Sutton (Billie & Dolly (Toy Blue Typewriter Productions, 2010)), Gretchen Parlato (The Lost and Found (ObliqSound, 2011)) and Norah Jones (Feels Like Home (Blue Note Records, 2004)) intersect, giving rise to Becca Stevens, whose creative arc gains traction in a direction different from, but informed by, those singers. By combining Parlato's coquettish, diaphanous singing style, Sutton's rootsy, organic acoustic approach and Jones' tuneful composing, Stevens charts a course all her own in a spirited new direction...continue.

Art Pepper

Blues For The Fisherman

Laurie Pepper has been the lightning rod for the music of her late husband, Art Pepper, since the saxophonist's death at 56 in 1982. She took proper control of his musical legacy in 1981 on the advice of the couple's accountant, transferring ownership of the saxophonist's works and contracts to the entity Arthur Pepper Music Inc., where, as intellectual assets, the corpus was protected from outside encroachment...continue.

Tierney Sutton

American Road

Solidly innovative and a forward-thinker in jazz vocals arena over the past 15 years, Tierney Sutton has constantly looked backwards while forging a future path that has influenced the likes of Laurie Antonioli and Gretchen Parlato, among many other noted contemporary jazz vocalists. A master of vocal pyrotechnics like Sarah Vaughan, Sutton sings on a high-wire, taking stylistic chances that, more often than not, pay off handsomely ...continue.

Carol Morgan

Blue Glass Music

Trumpeter Carol Morgan's Blue Bamboo debut, Opening (2010) was received uniformly, with accolades from all quarters. The Texas-native cum Manhattan-ite exploded out of Julliard following the tutelage of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and seemed to be everywhere at once. Morgan has been a constant in the DIVA Jazz Orchestra (with Sharel Cassity), and fronting her quintet, Carol Morgan's Case Study, featuring pianist Helen Sung and guitarist Mike Moreno, and her organ trio, Morgana' Organic Trio, featuring Akiko Tsuruga...continue.

Microscopic Septet

Friday The Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk

If two creative star trajectories were ever meant to cross, it was those of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk and the Microscopic Septet. Sure, Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron had a pretty good Monk gig going, and Sphere was a great tribute band lead by Monk's longtime tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse (followed by Gary Bartz). But, the Micros...here are seven guys who really have Monk under their skin...continue.

Ray Charles

Singular Genius—The Complete ABC Singles

Handsomely appointed, Concord's Singular Genius—The Complete ABC Singles offers an example of intelligent and succinct programming and assembly in the waning days of the compact disc. This individual items collection were produced during the heyday of the 45 RPM single, which is to say during the time of alphanumeric telephone exchanges. It represents all of Charles' ABC single releases between 1960 ("My Baby, I Love Her Yes I Do") and 1973 ("Ring of Fire"). What exists in between is nothing less than the most important soul and rhythm and blues recordings of the period....continue.

Various Artists

This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45rpm 1957-1982

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a renewal in interest in American prewar folk music, particularly early jazz, rural blues and black gospel music. This occurred primarily because a small knot of British and American, slightly obsessive-compulsive, record collectors and/or academics turned their attention from old jazz on 78rpm discs to similarly esoteric sound recordings made in the middle-to-late 1920s by a small din of African-American musicians who doubled as day laborers in the rich and unforgiving Mississippi Delta region....continue.

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